We've all been hearing about the drought. The worst two year period of dryness and heat in Kansas history -- even worse than the dust-bowl years -- and it's the year we choose to start a grass based farm. I have always had great timing like that.
The "grass based" is an important consideration in how our farm is effected. Every animal on our farm is connected through the pastures. The cows, the pigs, the chickens, the turkeys and the hens all rely on grass for food and without that grass, a keystone of our farm is lost.
In June and July our farm received .43 inches of rain. We average 10 inches during those months in a normal year. This means, when the grass should have been growing gangbusters in June, it just sat there. No regrowth. On our farm, we practice rotational grazing. The cows get a small prescribed amount of pasture for one day -- then do not return to that pasture until it has completely regrown. In a normal type year -- they might return every 4 - 6 weeks. This year, the grass that was grazed once in May has not regrown at all. This has had a huge effect on all of our animals.
Our poultry and pigs get supplemental grain, so we have been able to compensate for the lack of grass by giving them more grain. This has a considerable cost to the farm though as our grain prices have doubled since early Spring. In addition, the heat has slowed the growth of our birds, caused them to lay less eggs and we have even had some losses due to heat related stress.
Our cows are the most directly effected. They eat grass and only grass. I have had to be very tight with their pastures and not allow any excess and have been grazing areas of the farm where I typically might not graze them - such as woods and other nooks and crannys. The heat has been very hard on the animals and has been difficult to manage daily pasture rotations, while also providing shade for them to rest in. Because we use no pharmaceutical wormers, we have to be constantly diligent that they never have the same bed two nights in a row. There is only so much shade and grass and we are running out. Right now I have about 35 days of pasture left. If we do not receive considerable rain before then, I will be forced to start feeding hay at an incredible daily expense and then be forced to find more hay for this winters feeding - at proabbly triple the normal cost of hay. It will make things tough for sure. In addition, the heat has been directly connected to the loss of one our best cows - Valeska. She died from an illness, assumed to be a virus that she was unable to fight off likely due to the stress of the heat in addition to the virus. The loss of a cow is a several thousand dollar loss, the loss of her calf every year for all upcoming years is tremendous and the emotional toll is even larger.
Our garden has survived, dare I say even thrived, depite the heat. However, this come at a large expense of hundreds of dollars in paid-for water to supplement the thousands of gallons we have pumped out of our well - which is now too dry to use. The heat has made things more difficult to grow though and has magnified the insect problems which only grow faster and reproduce quicker in hot weather. I chose not to irrigate our corn patch and have pretty much written it off. It is about 2.5 feet tall and already showing signs of maturity -- with no ears. The garden has been twice the work of normal and has yielded about half as many vegetables as a normal year.
For our family the drought has effected us as well. Our house does not have A/C so we have had a rather sudden adjustment on how you manage your life differntly when 95 degrees is a normal evening in-house temperature and you hope the temp is below 90 by the time its bedtime. Additionaly, because of the drought, the amount of time neded to take care of the animals and the garen has atleast doubled, which hass reduced the time we could work on other projects, take trips or go on family outings.
When we lived in the city, heat and lack of rain meant that our flowers weren't quite as pretty or that we might need to water our lawn a little bit extra. WOW - how our perspective has changed. However, none of this had dampened our spirits of farmers. We still love showing the farm to others and sharing how great food can be raised. Also, I have absolute faith that the way we are choosing to farm - in harmony with natural systems, will allow our animals and our farm to adjust to whatever the future holds.